Imagining Mountains All Wrong

It turns out mountain ranges don’t just come in the familiar pyramid form—in fact, most of them have a different shape entirely. New research published in a May edition of Nature Climate Change reveals a surprising discovery that not only changes the way we think about mountains but could also have big implications for how we understand, monitor, and protect the organisms that call them home.

Researchers Morgan Tingley and Paul Elsen used satellite data on mountain ranges from around the globe to analyze how the amount of land area changed with increasing elevation. They learned that pyramidal mountain ranges account for just 32 percent of the mountain ranges on Earth. Of the remaining mountain ranges, six percent have an inverse, or upside-down, pyramid form, with land area increasing toward the top; 23 percent have an hourglass shape, being wider and at the bottom and top and pinched in the middle; and 39 percent have a diamond form, with less land area at the top and bottom and more available in the middle.